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Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, as well as different diagnoses and treatments. Offers information on how you can support someone with bipolar and tips for self-management.

What types of bipolar disorder are there?

Bipolar disorder is often broken down into types and subtypes.

Your doctor may diagnose you with a particular type of bipolar disorder. This will depend on how you experience different bipolar moods and symptoms, and how severely they affect you.

Not all medical professionals agree on how to classify or diagnose bipolar disorder. More research in this area is needed.​

You may hear several different words or phrases used to describe types of bipolar. This can be confusing and frustrating. Especially if you feel that your experiences are not being fully understood. Or if you are being told different things by different people.

Bipolar 1

You may get a diagnosis of bipolar 1 if you have experienced:

  • At least one episode of mania which has lasted longer than a week.
  • Some depressive episodes too, although not everyone does.

Bipolar 2

You may get a diagnosis of bipolar 2 if you have experienced both of the following:

Cyclothymia

You may get a diagnosis of cyclothymia if:

  • You've experienced both hypomanic and depressive mood episodes over the course of two years or more.
  • Your symptoms aren't severe enough to meet the diagnostic criteria of bipolar 1 or bipolar 2.

Cyclothymia can sometimes develop into bipolar 1 or bipolar 2.

Cyclothymia can be a difficult diagnosis to receive. You may feel as though someone is saying your symptoms are 'not serious enough', but this isn't the case. Cyclothymia can seriously impact your life. And mental health is a spectrum that covers lots of different experiences.

“I have cyclothymia. It can make you feel more like it must be all in your head as the symptoms are often not as extreme as bipolar.”

Rapid cycling bipolar

You may be told you have bipolar 1 or 2 'with rapid cycling' if you've experienced 4 or more depressive, manic or hypomanic or mixed episodes within a year.

This might mean:

  • You experience episodes of mania or hypomania, followed by episodes of depression.
  • You feel stable for a few weeks between episodes. For example, you may cycle between manic episodes and stable periods.
  • You experience episodes that last months, weeks or days.

If you have bipolar disorder, you may experience rapid cycling at certain times in your life and not others.

Currently, rapid cycling is not officially considered a separate type of bipolar disorder. More research is needed about rapid cycling and how best to treat it.

For more information on rapid cycling, see the Bipolar UK website.

If your mood changes quickly within the same day, or the same hour, this is usually classed as a mixed episode, rather than rapid cycling. But some people use the term rapid cycling to describe this experience.

Bipolar with mixed features

You may be told that you have bipolar 1 or 2 'with mixed features' if you experience mixed episodes. This is when you experience depression and mania or hypomania at the same time, or very quickly after each other.

This is sometimes called mixed bipolar state or mixed affective bipolar.

Bipolar with seasonal pattern

You may be told that you have bipolar 1 or 2 'with seasonal pattern'. This means that the time of year or seasons regularly affect your mood episodes.

Unspecified bipolar

You may hear this if your symptoms don't quite fit into the diagnostic categories for other types of bipolar disorder.

But this doesn't mean that:

  • Your symptoms are any less difficult
  • You don't need treatment or support

Using any of these terms can help both you and health professionals discuss your diagnosis and treatment more specifically. If they ever use words or phrases you don't understand, you can ask them to explain.

This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References and bibliography available on request.

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